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In Memoriam: Jane Matilda Bolin March 14, 2008

Posted by twilightandreason in Higher Education.
Tags: , , , , , , ,

January 8, 2008 marked exactly one year since the death of one of African America’s greatest foremothers in the area of higher education. On January 8, 2007 Jane Matilda Bolin, one of the first African American women to graduate from Wellesley College and the first African American woman to graduate from Yale Law School, passed away at at the age of 98.

Of her experiences at Wellesley, Bolin said,

There were a few sincere friendships developed in that beautiful, idyllic setting of the college but, on the whole, I was ignored outside the classroom. I am saddened and maddened even nearly half a century later to recall many of my Wellesley experiences but my college days for the most part evoke sad and lonely personal memories. These experiences perhaps were partly responsible for my lifelong interest in the social problems, poverty and racial discrimination rampant in our country. . . . I report my memories honestly because this racism too is part of Wellesley’s history and should be recorded fully, if only as a benighted pattern to which determinedly it will never return and, also, as a measure of its progress. –as reported in Wellesley Person of the Week, for the week of July 10, 2000

As a tribute to her memory and in honor of her legacy as a pioneer both in higher education and in the legal field, I am this excerpt from Jane Bolin’s obituary, which first appeared in the January 8, 2007 weekly digest of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education.

Jane Bolin, one of the first black graduates of Wellesley College, the first black woman to graduate from Yale Law School, and the nation’s first black female judge, died earlier this month in New York City. She was 98 years old.

Jane Matilda Bolin was the daughter of Gaius Bolin, an attorney who had been the first African American to earn a degree at Williams College. In 1924 Jane Bolin graduated from high school at the age of 15. She lived only a stone’s throw away from Vassar College, a Seven Sister school in Poughkeepsie, New York. But instead she enrolled at Wellesley College because, at that time, Vassar did not admit blacks. She graduated with honors in four years and then enrolled at Yale Law School, where she was a classmate of Edward R. Murrow.

Bolin moved to New York City and opened a law practice with her husband. In 1937 Bolin was named assistant corporation counsel for the City of New York. Two years later she was summoned to a meeting with Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia. Bolin expected to be fired, or at least reprimanded, but could not fathom what she had done wrong. After she had been waiting apprehensively for some time, the mayor burst into the room and abruptly said, “Raise your right hand. I am going to make you a judge.” Her appointment to the Domestic Relations Court made Bolin the nation’s first black woman judge. She served nearly 40 years on the court.

In 1978 Bolin was required to retire at age 70. At the time Judge Bolin said, “I don’t want to go. They’re kicking me out.”

Posted by Ajuan Mance



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